Premiered 9/9/9 (9 September 2009)
The continuation of The Myth and Legend of D'PTah, an original novel by Dan Sewell Ward.
Anna finished the contents of the previous segment. For several moments, she flipped back and forth, still analyzing and making judgments about the content and organization. There had been nothing but the most professional attitude when she had entered... without so much as a touch on the arm or hand. Accordingly, Duenki had been sweating out her verdict. Then the waiting was done. Without looking at him, she asked, “And the next segment?”
Duenki hesitated. Officially, he was not supposed to have been finished with it. He had in fact kicked in all of his afterburners in trying to get everything done so that as much as possible of the information would be preserved no matter what. His precognitive side had been influencing his dreams, with the message that the forces of limitations were indeed actively plotting against the dissemination of truth in whatever form and in whatever manner that it might be offensive to... well... anyone.
With all the grace and aplomb of the semi-talented liar, he asked, “The next segment?”
Anna turned to him, looking deep into his eyes. Her experience in discerning truth and lies had been honed for a very long time. She simply smiled.
“Right,” Duenki admitted, his soul having been temporarily removed, dissected, analyzed, and stuffed back into his being with an almost careless abandon. “The next segment,” he conceded.
Most of the Warlords were gathered around the round oaken table. The table itself might have reminded one of Camelot, except the heavy table in this case was more likely to be used to prevent the sudden slaughter of one power broker by another (and, come to think of it, perhaps that was its intended purpose back in the old days as well). In both cases, everyone was kept at a reasonable distance from the other. But unlike something from the UN Security Council, there were no aides about. This was a strictly members only affair. My involvement stemmed purely from the fact that Senator Layde and General Mick had been demoted to keeping what they hoped was a low profile with respect to possible conspiracies, seemingly uninvolved in any covert interactions (which in and of itself should have been suspicious). This was all according to the plan to continue their infiltration into the Regency's inner circle. I of course was carrying the latest intelligence from the two of them to present to the group. As a woman I would be less likely to be targeted for suspicion in what was primarily a male dominated conspiracy.
I also had my done my own research – with David having contributed something that I might be able to use. Still... General Mick's lukewarm reception of my news had dampened my enthusiasm. I would just have to play this one by ear. If asked, I'd tell them what I knew. And maybe even if they didn't ask... just to keep me at least in the game. Suffice it to say, I was feeling great! Energized and ready for bear (and/or bare). I was in the Big Crowd, sitting next to a contributing member, Richard Villa.
Despite everything, I rather liked my new status. There were fewer attempts to investigate my cleavage or simply slip a hand into my crotch. I had began making my own decisions – and for all extents and purposes, using the Senator and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as cannon fodder (the use of the politically correct version of expendable intelligence-gathering spies to further my own agenda). I had thus achieved the status of junior partner, one with critical and specialized talents. There's nothing like a display of moral flexibility to recommend one to this group of Warlords, the kind of people who would do whatever, whenever and to whoever without the slightest hint of concern for propriety, integrity, or decency – the latter words often used by the less quick and less attuned just to account for their insufficiencies. I had even been approached by Villa to consider a joint venture where the Senator would be “used up” as necessary. Amazingly Villa had not even hinted at any sexuality between us. Of course, the asshole's probably gay! But he at least did have his heart in the right place (and his hands at his side).
Layton Kennedy was again the ostensible host, this time in his own island castle, one in which he could not only pretend to be host, but in some respects make the case for precisely that. His home away from jail was located far from the serfs, the maddening crowd, and the peasants of expendability. It was also located far from private and public investigators, hoards of outraged stockholders, and more than a few distraught family members. Layton's status as host, however, carried very little weight.
Norman Malestrom was holding court once again, acting as the main focus and the man sitting at the head of the round table – the latter admittedly an oxymoron on the same level as 'more equal than some'. Barry Laurence was, as expected, vocally present, constantly adding his quick analyses in an effort to convince others that he was a critical ingredient. Even Jerry Friendly, the back-stabbing protestant bullshitter was there, along with someone I didn't know and who had only been introduced as “Brutus” or something like that. The latter guy, I would have to check out. He had the look of being truly evil, ruthless, and despicable. In other words, he was my kind of guy, if you know what I mean. But he also seemed either undersexed, terminally horny, or somewhere in between. Mostly, he was just intense, a condition that I could use to undermine him if it ever seemed worth the effort.
The good news was that my favorite tall, dark, and handsome co-conspirator was there as well. I still didn't know his name, only that he was a “major” something or another and represented some ultra secret organization called the “Arcturus Group”. I had tried a dozen ways to check out this group, and came up short every time. What the fuck is this world coming to when you can't dig up dirt on any and every one? Where's the sport in that? Christ, I might have to do some of my own leg work... if you know what I mean. Come to think of it, this was probably rather precisely the time to do exactly that. Accordingly, I went to the point of walking up to tall, dark... and asking him. “Arcturus Group, huh? One of those super secret organizations?”
He looked at me, smiled, and I felt myself go wet – it would have been called my water breaking had I been pregnant. He simply replied, “Oh, we're very much out in the open... if you know where to look. We would never consider hiding our lights under... anything. Just look for the contrary motion.”
Okay, that was a waste. Another of those answers with all the definitive content of one of those damn Delphic oracles: filled with meaning and obscure to the point of protecting the source no matter what actually happens. Is this guy toying with me or what? Of course, I could make notes on what he did say and then go back to the research effort. Maybe just Google it with the phrase: "it's out in the open."
But before I could reply with some witty repartee, the Major “of the contrary motion Arcturus” turned away to greet Barry, and it suddenly struck me that I had somehow failed to even get the man's name! Fuck!
That was when I noticed two new guys wandering into the gathering. They were quickly met by Norman, who acted as if the newcomers were somehow important. One of the new guys, obviously the higher ranking guy, was a black dude with a ramrod straight posture. I wondered if he had servants to tie his shoes, since I could not imagine him bending over for such mundane matters. It did strike me funny, however, that a black man could be given any respect whatsoever, considering that the Warlords were notoriously white, racist, and any other characteristic to help them distinguish themselves from the peasantry, the latter being about 99.99% of the populace.
The other dude was a huge, swarthy character – someone to give Major Rock Babe – maybe I'll call him 'Major Arcturus' for simplicity -- a run for his money. This new arrival was a Sean Connery look alike (in Sean's hay day), but taller. They say, power is an aphrodisiac, and both Major Arc and Swarthy Dude had an ample supply. Need-less-to-say, I would have dropped my drawers for either of these additions to our club for nothing more than a raised eyebrow on either one of their shockingly rugged faces. Meanwhile, because of these two guys alone I had probably already released enough sexual pheromones to attract a herd (and/or a lodge) of Elk.
With their arrival, as if by their arrival, everyone got down to business. What the hell! Had we been waiting for these clowns? Who exactly were they? It took several reports and miscellaneous details before I was able to identify the black dude. Shit! I should have already recognized him, but it took Norman to deflect my attentions from Maj Arc and Swarthy to the black man.
“General Koenig,” Norman had begun, “Can we assume your highly selective forces to be at the ready, subject to your orders only... and most importantly, out of the loop of General Mick?
Koenig, his posture ramrod straight, looked at Norman for several very long seconds, before he said in a clipped tone, “My best intelligence estimate is that General Mick is unaware of our existence, let alone our readiness state. However, I cannot be as sanguine in my appraisal of Admiral Sudra. His intelligence sources are formidable. He may or may not know about us; I would have to operate on the assumption that he has some idea.”
“And can he be brought over to our side,” Norman inquired?
“As I've already made clear in our previous conversations: both Admiral Sudra and myself are not to be taken for granted by any side. I agreed to be here in order to make my own judgments as to the viability of any cooperative stance. Admiral Sudra will in due time, as he becomes better informed concerning your activities, undoubtedly make his decision as well. I can approach him on your behalf, if you like, but I will need some additional information prior to that.”
Norman set up a bit straighter, as if he was withdrawing his support. “And precisely how do we obtain the unqualified support of both of you? We had assumed a disciplined force at our back.”
“I follow the chain of command... provided of course that said chain has not been compromised. The discipline of the soldiers below me is unquestioned. They respond instantly and forcefully to their commander, because they have complete trust in his ability to make the best possible decisions. I make such decisions based on complete and accurate intelligence.”
“Understood,” Norman replied. “But any and all 'best possible decisions' can only be made with a full understanding of the forces arrayed. Perhaps J. Francis Grant can provide you with a bit more evidence of the validity of our efforts.”
For a moment I looked at J. Francis, thinking he would methodically and casually display his pharmacidal wares. Only... J. Francis was just sitting there, seemingly in no rush to say anything. It was also clear in my brief glance that something was very, very different... as if he had recently aged... and dramatically so. Old was no longer an apt description. More like ancient, and without the will to try for yet another year.
“I am already aware,” the General interrupted (Norman, J. Francis, and my thoughts), “of the status of the attempted but failed effort to poison selected members of the Grand Council.”
“And of the pending crop failures, the resulting famines, and the inevitable chaos looming ahead?” Norman smiled in a deadly way.
“You mean, the planned famines. Theory is a cheap commodity,” the General almost smiled. “I prefer to deal with actual events and avoid leaps of imagination. I appreciate your... pending... efforts to foul the crops and cause famine. Obviously, you have already had some success in particular areas. However, to assume that there will be strategic benefits to be gained through your 'inevitable' chaos and anarchy is still a matter of speculation. My experience, buttressed by a long history of the world, makes it clear that the so-called repressed people are unlikely to rise up and revolt when times are hard. Starving peasants make very poor revolutionaries.” Cue in: Music from Les Miserables (One Day More) .
“Point taken,” Norman replied. “But when combined with rampant rumors of conspiracies to intentionally commit genocide, those only threatened with future starvation, but still able to wield a weapon, can make very effective soldiers. They can at least assist by using up the munitions of our enemies.”
“Suicide bombers, perhaps. But disciplined and coordinated soldiers...?”
“Never underestimate,” the Brutus fellow interjected, “the power of religion to discipline its soldiers with not mere earthly punishment for failure to execute orders, but an eternity of hell's fury. It's all a matter of having faith in the righteousness of one's position.”
“I have already encountered religious fanaticism,” the General replied, now with a definite smile on his face, “and as long as I have a means of funneling their charge and enough firepower, I will decimate their ranks – as I have done in the past, and which I will happily do in the future.”
“Surely, General,” Brutus continued, not yet dissuaded from the righteousness of his cause, “You are aware of the Regency-inspired assassination of a popular religious figure, Johnny Ceal.”
“An event that is clearly not regency-inspired,” the General countered.
“Irrelevant,” Brutus replied, waving the objection aside. “The only thing that matters is that the religious leaders and their flocks throughout the world, believe it was a crucifixion.” (Yes, I know: it sounds like 'crucifiction'.) “Already, there are protests involving millions. Media attention is focused upon such menialities and thus diverted from the positive news stemming from the Regency. And when famines are running rampant, it will be seen as the result of a loss of religious faith in any of a dozen different sects. We have not only starving peasants, but well fed soldiers ready to stand up and be counted. Religion has the ability to instill far greater discipline and enthusiasm for engaging the enemy and all the powers your secular military might ever instill.”
Koenig smiled. “History would suggest that the fear of Onward Christian Soldiers did not quite cut it, when they had their crusade cut short by Saladin.”
“But my dear general, Saladin's ace in the hole was also religion, Islamic of course. But such a faith nevertheless inspired the hundreds of thousands to accomplish their goals.”
“Unfortunately for your argument, those days depended upon numbers, whereas now, a single crew with the right weapons can kill millions. Fear of the hereafter, religious enthusiasm, all of the above are no match for well trained, well armed soldiers, with both the motivation, the weapons, and the ability to inflict massive pain and death.”
The General, bless his little black heart, was handing it back as fast as it was being dumped on him. And without the slightest variation in his ramrod, battle hardened body. Hmmmm... I've never had a black man. That... might be interesting.
“You are indeed a hard sell, General,” Norman added, lapsing into an apparent smile as broad as my inner one – although my smile was almost certainly a differently inspired one.
I would really have preferred to see which of these powers would prevail, when my boyfriend – intended as well as current fantasy -- Major Arcturus, held up his hand. As it happened his hand reached up to less than shoulder level but was nevertheless sufficient for the others to cease their prattle and attend to him. Then he made a subtle gesture to have the others listen for a moment. Quickly, we all became aware that Abbie, the Black Widow, had arrived and the ultimate bitch was preparing to make her entrance. I would have thought that she had been sufficiently chastised for the last grand entrance, but apparently not. Or possibly, she had brought enough ammunition this time to counter even Norman's disapproval. Now that would be scary shit!
When Abbie did walk in, I had to give her credit that she did it with all the fanfare of an arrogant “mission accomplished” jock... dragging along her retinue, the same helpless poodle on the same heavy fucking chain. The bitch – the bipedal one -- strutted and preened – while the dog took the first opportunity that presented itself to collapse on the floor. In a phrase, the Black Widow was cock sure (and there has to be a pun somewhere in there). For several long seconds, she stood there waiting for the adoration of everyone in the room. I assumed that her miscalculation would be that typically none of the arrogant assholes in the room were ever impressed by anyone else.
But they soon would be. Even I had to marvel at the audacity, the casual disregard of any life other than one's own, and the extension of “moral flexibility” to the level of unmitigated evil. One is really obligated to admire the concept, the impressive and very real technology used to accomplish various nefarious aims. It is hard to dismiss the sheer mind-boggling feat of presenting a means whereby quite literally billions of human lives could be sacrificed at the collective whim of a few self-appointed guardians of the aristocratic status quo.
As the Black Widow set down – hopefully not as a praying mantis, at least from the viewpoint of the male Warlords in our group – Norman said aloud, in his most genteel manner, the one laced with arsenic, “I'm afraid Madame Baroness that due to severe time limitations we will be unable to review what has already been discussed. I'm afraid the combination of your late arrival and the essential early departures of certain of my guests would preclude such a courtesy.” Obviously, Norman had not bothered to tune into the air of total and complete confidence that the Baroness was displaying.
“Makes no difference,” Abbie replied. “What I have to say will make any previous discussions obsolete and pointless -- old history of no intrinsic value. Not that you might well want to carry out your... little plans to their logical conclusion... but only because of all your efforts thus far. Pity to waste such expenditures of energy. But in the end, there will be only one truly penultimate activity. The rest are distractions and feints to divert the enemy's resources in pointless reactionary responses.”
“Considering you know little of our previous discussions,” Brutus began, his stare at the Baroness enough to condemn her as a witch and heretic on the spot, burn her in oil, and/or douse her head with honey and fire ants. “I find your analysis to be... shall we say... less than convincing.”
“Who the hell are you?” The Baroness Abbie was clearly determined to dominate the conversation.
“Allow me,” Friendly interjected, gesturing to the man to his immediate right, “to introduce my long time colleague, Brutus Rosario, a most influential Cardinal of the Catholic Church.”
“A Catholic?” Her venom was almost dripping from her fangs.
“But someone not afflicted by excessive attention to the moral restrictions imposed upon the masses, I would dare say.” Villa was smiling in a mischievous way. “The most reverend Cardinal and I have had dealings in the past, and I believe you will find him a valuable asset for our purposes.”
The last statement grabbed my attention inasmuch as Villa was primarily a world class dealer of every possible means of violent death. If Brutus or whatever his name and station were, was working with Villa, then perhaps the rumors were true: the Catholic fanatics under the new Pope were preparing for the next Inquisition. It's not as if anyone capable of thinking could not have seen the obvious preparations for Holy War (and anti Jihad) that the Nazi Pope had begun in recent years. But this was the first, behind-the-scenes evidence that I had seen – and thus the more credible (even if a bit of a 'zinger'). Those insane morons were really gearing up for some insane, final apocalyptic vision. Un-fucking believable!
“Whatever,” the Baroness stiffed, dismissing any futile attempt to direct attention in any other direction than hers. With that she smiled, as everyone focused entirely upon her. "I can bring to your attention today the ultimate weapon, one which will accomplish a host of our most precious agendas. It is in short the mother of all plagues – one with all the characteristics of being enormously deadly and communicable, but also one with an astoundingly complex antidote. In other words, everyone can be infected while at the same time we will control absolutely the cure. We've dubbed the latter the Tosanmon Serum.”
Laurence laughed slightly, but then shared his joke. “Are you threatening to put Villa out of business?”
“I am certain we can find other uses for his many talents,” the Baroness answered, not bothering to look at Villa, and instead appraising Barry for the true intent of his comments.
“What's the incubation time,” my gorgeous Major Arcturus asked?
The Baroness smiled – giving away the fact she loved the question. Probably had it planted. “About six months, after which 90 to 95% of those infected will die, typically within a month from the first signs of symptoms or the appearance of there being anything wrong.”
The swarthy dude – who the hell was he, I wondered – casually asked, “Easily communicable, lies dormant for six months, then proceeds to kill off 90 to 95% of the victims within a month?”
“Precisely,” she crowed. “The entire planet could be infected prior to any hint of a problem, and then once it's begun, it's too late for quarantine. Then it's simply the luck of the draw. Or in who you know.”
“What is the basis for your percentage kill,” Villa asked?
“We had 187... volunteers. Those are admittedly limited statistics, but enough to verify that it's enormously deadly.”
“Volunteers?” I asked.
“A select group of people we found with variations in all distinctive characteristics, but all without any family or social ties, hand picked to ensure the integrity of the research.”
Abbie looked at me, a twinkle in her eye. I almost gasped. “How do you find such people? Doesn't everyone who can see lightening and hear thunder know that anytime someone in a white lab coat finds out that you have no family, no friends, no ties to society, and that you would not be missed if you simply disappeared... that if you become involved in one of their experiments... you will soon disappear and never be missed?”
“Never underestimate the ignorance of people,” Layton quipped. “The vast majority bought my supposed death without a moment's hesitation.”
“Nor their willingness to allow others to direct them to their deaths,” Rosario added, “Contrary to the General's view of the truly faithful, the fact remains that many have simply given up hope. When anyone offers any alternative to boredom and living a pointless life... even dramatic death... they are often more than willing to take it. One should never discount the inability of people to understand that they may be giving up their lives for a cause that benefits only the few... those with a true understanding of the world. A basic attribute of human nature is to seek drama and meaningful death... and seldom life.”
“We do understand one another, don't we,” the Baroness replied, her focus now entirely on Rosario. That was weird! From my vantage, one might have thought I'd seen sparks flying between the Cardinal and the Baroness Abbie? Oh mommy, this is really all too fucking weird!
My hunk interrupted. “What precisely are the elements of its communicability?”
The Baroness again smiled, for the first time actually taking notice of the man asking the more pertinent questions. “By air, or food. The latter is obviously more certain, but in general breathing the same air as others who are already contagious will do the trick. I mention the food in part because that would be the primary means of first establishing a foot hold for the infection in the general population.”
“Not by water,” he asked?
“Interestingly enough, no.” The Baroness was now speaking to Major Arc as an equal, worthy of an intelligent interchange. “In fact, those subjects who tended to drink a lot of water... and avoided dehydration... were more likely to fight the infection longer, although the end result was pretty much the same. There seemed to be a slight dilution effect, but nothing to stay the ultimate course.”
“But it's not carried in the water?”
“Let's just say that water would be the least effective means of transmitting the disease.”
Something in the manner of her latest answers grabbed my attention. There was something the bitch was not telling us. Her cockiness had slowed from his normal blitzkrieg. There was a hidden message, a hesitation, a heel unexposed and therefore unprotected by Greek magic.
Villa then interrupted my thoughts, “Then we can't simply use water supplies?”
“For maximum effectiveness, we would want to spray food stock crops, and then let nature take its course with the infected individuals infecting everyone else.”
“Quite a massive effort,” Layton conceded. “To cover the world food stocks with spraying. Crop spraying is not done in most countries you know.”
“But it can be done,” Villa noted. “There are all sorts of ways.”
For a moment no one said anything. Then my lovable hunk asked, “And the antidote?”
The Baroness smiled her best and most congenial smile, the one used in all her propaganda and press releases. “That's the best part. No injections. Simply incorporate it into the food.”
“But how does that help us,” Layton asked?
“Simple,” the Baroness replied. “You choose which foods stocks are destined for the right people -- those we choose -- and then add the antidote as an ingredient. By controlling the distribution network, and according to what we believe is the best scenario for creating our little final pandemic, we can ensure that all the best restaurants are serving on a regular basis our antidote – unknowingly of course. Everyone who frequents or even occasionally visits a good restaurant will be immunized. It apparently takes only two or three visits to get enough of the antidote to increase the rate of survival to above the ninetieth percentile. However, those people who spend their time at McDonald's and its equivalents will simply miss out. Eating at fast food franchises has always been considered deadly, but an exclusive diet of such fast and fatal foods will now absolutely ensure death. For the vast majority of those living in third world countries, without access to such oases of quality restaurants... 90 to 95% will succumb.”
With the Baroness still smiling, but now mercifully silent, the rest of us simply stared. While she leaned back slightly, exalting in the apparent adoration, her audience was in an uncharacteristically stunned state. For several long moments, no one said a thing. Then finally, “Incredible,” Villa murmured, pretty much summing it up for the rest of us. The years of cashiering pawns whenever it became convenient was insufficient experience to begin thinking about eliminating most all of the pawns and a significant number of even the more powerful players. The humanicide was suddenly enormous.
Major Arc was the first to make a substantial comment. His voice low and perhaps looking for alternatives. “Is the antidote communicable?”
The Baroness looked at the hunk and smiled. “Apparently not. It's of a different type. The only way to be immunized is to eat the foods that contain what amounts to a tasteless, odorless, extra ingredient. Those who eat the better foods will survive. Those who don't, most of them will die.”
General Koenig – who I suddenly realized was being impressed with the possibilities, and who knows, maybe even the potential horror of it all -- then stepped up to the plate. “I suspect you like the idea of only those people who go to fancy restaurants being the chosen few to survive, but I think you might want to consider a few facts of life.” When the Baroness found herself unable to respond immediately to the challenge, the General continued. “With such a weapon, you're going to want to provide the antidote to selected farming, ranching and food supply communities, perhaps also college and university campuses to ensure a healthy supply of scientists, engineers, and others who can contribute to keeping the elite fat, comfortable, and entertained. There are a whole host of technicians, laborers, and artisans who you will want to have in your brave new world. I would also want to add, with considerable emphasis, that you might be wise to provide the antidotes to loyal, disciplined troops.”
“Good point,” Layton added. “I think I'd want my guards to be healthy and fit.” Just looking at him, I could see his thinking that no matter what, he'd be all safe and secure on his fortress island. Just had to be sure of having his own supply of antidote. Seeing it all my satellite... would just not be that hard.
'Good God', I thought! 'We're back to business as usual?'
“And with 90-95% mortality,” Norman reflected, speaking up for the first time since Abbie's entrance (something that was not like him), “Surviving will be by the luck of the genetic draw.” The Black Widow, with a dip of her head, showed that she agreed.
Curiously, Norman found himself somewhat surprised at his ability to incorporate... even to tolerate the planned pandemic. Or was it the peer pressure, the demands from above: One must never, never, never show the slightest doubt. Instead, you have to focus on accomplishing the mission... and afterwards ensure the press coverage for your great success. But then again...
“What about children,” Major Hunk asked? God! If I don't find out his name, I'm really going to go berserk. If nothing else, I am going to want to have such a man as my protector in this... shit, not brave, just newly fucked up world.
The Baroness seemed suddenly perplexed. “There were only five in the study. One without an antidote died, while one immunized survived. The others were preadolescence and all three survived, with or without an antidote.”
“Do you think the preadolescences had their own immunity?”
“Possibly. We're not really sure yet. Just too soon to know.” The Baroness looked slightly deflated, but then appeared to rally, “But I don't think it will be the younger children who will ultimately be a problem. With most everyone dead around them, they're far less likely to survive, if only because of the likelihood of their dying from exposure.”
For the first time, I sensed that this collection of Warlords, who might – without a moment's reflection – have thought nothing of dooming billions to their deaths were suddenly taken back by the idea of hundreds of millions of young children succumbing to the elements, alone, starving, afraid, and dying of cold, wild animals, and abandonment. Finally, the full implications of the Baroness' actual message was getting through. This was getting into the realm of genocide at the level of all humanity. It suddenly hit me that maybe, just maybe, this couldn't be... that there was going to be a rejection of the Baroness' apocalyptic vision by the Warlords. Surely, there is a point at which the most depraved must hesitate, look in the eye the misery of billions, and perhaps, turn away. But then again... maybe I was wrong. Maybe these bastards had an extreme take on survival of the fittest. Look at Barry Laurence, for heaven's sake! He had absolutely nothing to say... no argument... just the lawyer keeping his own counsel!
General Koenig was the first to say anything, but then only in a considerably quieter tone than before, as if he were visualizing what he might well have seen in his previous campaigns. “There would likely be extreme efforts to save many of these children, but they wouldn't be able to do much for more than, say, ten percent of them.” When no one said anything, he added, “It's the nature of collateral damage. A lot of innocents die. It's the nature of war.”
I was just a bit more than aghast at his statement... until I thought about it for a moment. Somehow his expression conveyed another thought. Was he... and the others... sensing the need to avoid appearing weak among this group of Warlords, of being unwilling to do anything... even condemning billions of humans to painful death? Were these macho morons hanging in there, refusing to show the slightest weakness, lest they get ostracized from their all-male crowd? Were they just scared shitless to show the slightest hint of weakness or compassion? Maybe there was even an attempt to find a flaw... something on which to base a future rationalization.
“We will pray diligently for them,” Jerry Friendly said. I couldn't tell if he was making a jest or simply attempting to salve his own afflicted conscience. Good God! I wondered. Are they seriously going to do this? Was Friendly's response no more than rationalization in extremis?
Rosario crossed himself, and muttered, “They will mercifully not suffer long.” Apparently, for Brutus, it was all a matter of placing one's faith in the cause of righteousness.
“Fine,” Villa suddenly said. “It's a sad loss of life, and we're all personally grieved. But when life is cheap, when it is overabundant, then its loss is next to negligible. It's not like they're not going to die eventually. What is so special about a collective moment of truth? Can we now move on?”
I looked at Villa for some time, suspecting his bravado was more pragmatism than monster-in-training. But he was also one of the most devious types I'd ever encountered. You never knew what he might do next. His motto was survival of the fittest, but one also linked directly to survival of the most flexible.
I also noticed Koenig looking at Villa with the sort of grim expression normally reserved for those condemned for high treason. Had the good general, perhaps, been pushed beyond his limits? It seemed hardly likely – considering what I knew of the man. But I could not easily dismiss my intuition. Some kind of sea change had occurred somewhere in the room.
After a heavy silence, the Baroness managed to smile slightly, and then pull out a sheaf of papers from her stylish briefcase. As if at a meeting of one of her Board of Directors, Abbie began to describe in detail the plan to unleash the mother of all plagues on an unsuspecting population... and in the process, she was distributing hand outs, for God's sake! All the doubts occasioned by the deaths of innocents seemed to slip into the subconscious of everyone in the group – save myself, I hope -- as the thinking of the conspirators began concentrating upon understanding and making suggestions on the dissemination and antidote counter plans. It was now time to make the agenda work. Morality was quietly set aside. I had to wonder just how many of the others were actually being taken in by this monster?
Normally I would have rather liked the planning part, inasmuch as my forte has always been refining grandiose plans. When the Senator or others had praised me for my “moral flexibility”, I had always taken it as a compliment. This is, after all, a dog eat dog world – what the Gnostics might claim to be a horribly imperfect world created by a seriously dysfunctional god. And in the true spirit of the nature of that world, I would survive at any cost.
But today, I was finding a limit. Had in fact found it. In the process, I was also sensing at some deep level, that more than being a Cassandra, I'd also want to dabble as a Chiron... if only for credibility... and perhaps... for the ability to sleep at night.
Obviously I had some unfinished business, business which I was able to conclude in the ladies room. As the Black Widow preened herself before the mirror – and probably hating Snow White in the process – I took an adjacent mirror and smiling broadly, asked, “So, what's the problem with your little bug?”
For a moment Abbie looked at my reflection in her mirror, her look cold as ice. When she saw I was remaining steady in my nonchalance, she turned away. I rephrased my question.
“You little bug has a flaw. I can read it in your face. Is it the water?”
She studied me out of the corner of her eye for a moment, her mind rapidly considering that were I to blow the whistle on even suspicious grounds... thing could get a bit dicey with the Warlords. Trust is a fragile quality. When she had finally make up her mind, she said, very quietly and turning back to the mirror to check her face, “Not just water. Salt water. Salt water baths seem to help fight the virus.”
I was impressed, but showed only a knowing gesture, as if I had already guessed as much. “So anyone with access to the ocean or sea will have a higher percentage of lucky survivals.”
“Something like that,” she admitted. “Assuming of course that they have a clue on what to do.”
As she turned to go, I suddenly laughed. She stopped and looked at me, until I turned and said with more than a little glee in my voice, “I guess that means the Dead Sea, with its much higher salt content might be a really good place to vacation.”
Suddenly, she saw the humor and laughed herself. Then as we were about to exit, she added, with a wink, “Just between us girls, right? We can hardly be expected to ever show a man... any flaws.”
“Of course right,” I answered. 'Unless,' the thought quickly hit me, 'I find the slightest hint of an avenue to give away such a secret. Then all bets are off, you fucking whore!' My thoughts as always were mine alone, even when I gave her the best smile imaginable. I can't imagine that she might have believed me. Surely she understood the truth 'between us girls' was under no imaginable circumstances binding.
At the same time, I was willing to bet the antidote was probably more complex than simply an Epsom salt bath. But to discover this, I would need a massive, well orchestrated effort by experts. My first goal then, was to align myself with some group capable of duplicating Baroness Bitch's research. And thereby with my contribution I would find myself with guaranteed access to the antidote.
You might have thought I already had an “in” in that regard, but I couldn't believe that. Any one thinking they were about to receive the correct antidote would have no clue if what they were getting was a placebo or not. It's not like it could be judged by the source taking the same thing. The source could also take the real antidote at their leisure and simply put on a show for the unsuspecting co-conspirator, one who had been deemed by the source to no longer be an asset to the future of man. Shit! Even the Baroness might find a scientist, aka knowledgeable source, who found his Bitch Queen to be wanting, and thus fill her Christmas stockings with placebos as well. Wouldn't that be the classic irony!
Of course... placebos can often be far more effective than cures, and typically are. Survival of the most gullible? Create one's own reality? 'Shit! I'm beginning to think I think too much!'
Meanwhile for the dearest woman in my life, me... it's time to increase my social mobility, join that other club. Being a warlord apprentice is no longer fun; there is indeed no honor among thieves. Not that honor had been my opus of late... but if there are advantages to reaped thereby... why not?
Anna looked up from the narrative. Then she turned to Duenki. “You are indeed the intuitive scholar for whom I had hoped.”
Doctor Duenki momentarily retreated to being Dookie. Then as he watched Anna's intense stare, he pivoted within his mind and turning to authenticate his document directly, he added to the bottom of the report: “Mikhail Arthanius Duenki, 07.18.4518 APC.” In doing so, and prior to any other consideration, Duenki took a first excursion into accepting whatever might transpire. He then turned back to Anna, looking into her eyes as if he were an equal (possibly appropriate for the moment, but in the long run, a very unlikely status level). It was then Anna gave him a smile that basically made his life to date.
Then with a gentleness for which he had such grand memories, she said, “Your gesture is not a trivial one. You need to know that the secrecy surrounding these documents is almost certainly to be penetrated within the next twenty four hours. When that happens, things are going to change rather dramatically. You will be in the midst of an intellectual hurricane you are unlikely to experience hopefully more than once in your lifetime. There are a lot of important people who will not be pleased when this material makes its way into the research and information channels. More importantly they will not look kindly upon your efforts and may be looking to make an example of you personally”
Arthanius smiled slightly. The presence of Anna helped immensely, as he knew without question his irrevocable decision. Then he almost laughed, “I suppose I should show this to Gil. But then again, why force him into my conspiracy? That wouldn't be fair.” Anna smiled, as Arthanius added in an intended casual manner, “Still... a conspiracy is not really a true conspiracy unless there is... more than one person involved.”
Anna actually laughed. “We're going to make love now – even more intently than before... with an even greater bonding. That I can promise you. And of course, Doctor Gil Meshga cannot be involved in the ramifications which are reserved for the two of us. Thus... neither can he be involved in... our small conspiracy.” She turned – while Arthanius looked on in amazement – and entered her full name and private authorization code, transmitting both segments directly into the worldwide channels. It does indeed take at least two to make a conspiracy, and there's just nothing quite like love making to bond two like-minded conspirators. As the segments began their journey in the distribution channels, Anna said wistfully, “I'm just glad you're as ready for this as I am. It's been a very long trek for me. It's nice to know I can now almost see around the next bend in the road... whatever it holds in store.”
With that, Anna, who with great dispatch had added her authorization code, put her hand on his arm and said simply, “Arthanius.” It was the name she had used in the midst of their first intimacy. Meanwhile the segments had with the flick of a finger been transmitted to a worldwide audience.
The lack of a Gil involvement in the conspiracy also implied a lack of his advice to Duenki in what might have been the best for all concerned... a hesitating thought that did not really occur to Dookie. The issue of whether or not to trust Anna was not, for the moment... or quite a few moments... on the table.
Sex has always had the power to put truth and integrity to shame. On the other hand, Duenki was now past anger; he was taking his power... not to mention sharing it. It was about time!
More importantly Duenki and Anna were now tasting, even imbibing the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Despite the fact that control of Knowledge had always been Enlil's bag; for the moment, Enki was silently slinking about doing his thing. And Anna knew full well the impact of that. She and Enki knew with certainty that once the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge had been sampled, it was only a matter of time before Duenki would also taste the fruit of the Tree of Life.
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